Securing drinking water in the face of urbanisation

By Kizito Masinde, Programmes  Officer, International Water Association – TBA Alumnus

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Many governments are faced with the challenge of providing safe and reliable drinking water to their citizens.This is especially caused by issues such as rapid urbanisation, increasing population and climate change. Many cities around the world currently rely on water supplies sourced from many kilometres away as the basins in which they lie cannot be relied upon to provide them with sufficient raw water supplies. At the International Water Association (IWA), we have taken note of this fact and have embarked on a series of programmes that support the mitigation of these risks, and also inspire a change in water use and management by turning this water crisis into a fundamental opportunity for a transformation towards more sustainable societies.

One of these programmes is Water safety Planning (WSP), a tool of risk-based drinking-water quality management methods and procedures applied along the chain of water extraction, treatment, distribution and supply. Though WSPs are hinged within water utilities, their successful implementation is based on enhanced collaboration with partners outside the utility including catchment authorities, consumers and health authorities. Catchment authorities play a significant role in ensuring that the quantities of raw water required by utilities are met in the desired quality. Failure to meet these two parameters affects the smooth operations of the utility as it fails to produce the desired quality of drinking water in the right amounts. WSPs provide an avenue where the utilities are able to bring catchment authorities on board together with other stakeholders to find solutions to risks affecting the quantity and quality of raw water resources available to the utility. This is done through the creation of WSP teams that include a core team from the particular utility and a wider team from major stakeholders in the water sector where the utility is based.

Among the successful applications of WSPs I have worked on is with three utilities in East Africa namely Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company Limited (KIWASCO), Mwanza Urban Water and Sewerage Authority (MWAUWASA) and the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) – Jinja Area. All these utilities rely on Lake Victoria for their raw water and thus have a keen interest in ensuring the sustainability of the lake. I worked with these utilities between 2013 and 2014, guiding them through the development and implementation of their WSPs. Last year (2015), an independent audit was carried out to verify the WSP implementation status within the three utilities. The audit produced positive results showing that the utilities were at various levels of WSP implementation. One of the audit processes involved the auditor meeting the WSP teams in the three utilities and it was noted that each of the utilities had created a forum where they regularly brought together their major stakeholders to discuss and find solutions to risks that face their water supplies. According to the utilities, finding solutions was now easier as the meetings had cultivated trust among the stakeholders unified by the same objective. As a result, solutions to water risks were found based on the best available information and data.

The enhanced collaboration under WSPs between the stakeholders also serves to ensure that catchment authorities are able to clarify and closely monitor water resource allocations to the utilities in a collaborative way. This is because catchment authorities not only have the obligation to ensure that different water users are catered for, but also to safeguard the environmental integrity of water basins by keeping a strict check on the amounts of water abstracted from the ecosystem.

Despite the success of WSPs and the huge potential they have in helping utilities achieve their goals, challenges still exist. The successful development and implementation of WSPs requires an enabling environment that currently doesn’t exist in many countries. To ensure this, we have teamed up with a number of partners to influence countries and regions to develop strong institutional arrangements, supported by a favourable legal and policy framework for the successful take up of WSPs by water utilities. This is another phase of the WSP programme that I am working on as I continue to work with utilities around Africa to adopt WSP.

I am grateful for the skills and knowledge I gained during the TBA course as this helped me create the right foundation for my career. As we celebrate the World Water day this year, I would like to reiterate the message from the IWA strategy that reflects the WSP approach: The challenge for us as water professionals is that we are no longer ‘just amongst us’ and we must connect to a range of other people. We all need to get better at talking about water solutions with a much wider group of interested stakeholders, translating our technical knowledge and know-how to inform citizens, opinion leaders, civil society actors and decision makers alike.

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